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Ryan Johnson, Published January 01 2014

Where Are They Now? A.J. Clemente works to restart career after on-air gaffe

EDITOR’S NOTE: As a new year begins, The Forum is checking back on former subjects of stories who’ve made us cry, smile, laugh – or all three. They’re people who made a mark on the region in one way or another. We’ll tell you where they are now.

BISMARCK – A.J. Clemente thought landing a job at a TV station here would be the perfect first step toward eventually reporting for ESPN.

“I took the job as a newscaster just to get a foot in the door,” he said. “I didn’t think I was going to get this big of a foot in the door.”

Instead, his first on-air moments as a news anchor for KFYR-TV “couldn’t have gone any worse,” he wrote on Twitter after he started the broadcast by muttering two profanities.

The then-24-year-old was suspended that evening, and fired the next day.

But Clemente became an Internet sensation as quickly as his job ended, appearing on popular shows including “Today” and “The Late Show With David Letterman.”

Gawker named his gaffe one of the best news bloopers of 2013, and YouTube clips of Clemente’s mistake have appeared on countless television shows, websites and social media networks.

Now, the 25-year-old who grew up in Delaware is working with an agent to get a second chance.

‘Decision to make’

Clemente, a West Virginia University alumnus who had two internships during college, said he spent a couple of years after graduation applying for jobs while working at a bar in Dewey Beach, Del.

He got a break when KFYR hired him, and said he spent a few weeks reporting behind the scenes before his first gig at the anchor desk on that fateful Sunday evening.

While Clemente admitted to “moments” of having a pottymouth, just like anyone else, he said his vulgar on-air language was caused by frustration over the pronunciation of the London Marathon winner, Tsegaye Kebede.

He was rehearsing the name when the broadcast started 30 seconds early, beaming into homes just as he said two vulgar words.

Clemente laid low in Bismarck, staying there for a week until he got his last paycheck. But when clips of his disastrous debut went viral, he had to choose how to handle his sudden notoriety.

“I was definitely devastated,” he said. “I had a decision to make: Go and roll with it, or just do the opposite and maybe change my name or something like that and kind of go hide away. But everything happens for a reason, and I went with it.”

Clemente made the rounds, appearing on popular programs, and unexpectedly realized he was more comfortable talking to David Letterman than reporting for the local Bismarck station.

It also gave him a chance to interview celebrities on the red carpet for “Live with Kelly and Michael.” While he still dreams of working for ESPN, he said he’s also interested in entertainment reporting.

Despite the exposure, he hasn’t landed a second on-air job. He made national news again in May, when it was reported he had returned to Delaware and was working as a barkeep for $2.23 an hour plus tips.

He’s since hired an agent in New York City who helped him land a gig as an instructor at Rennert, a school for international students where he teaches a seven-week media course.

Clemente said his friends had a tongue-in-cheek suggestion about the job.

“All my friends joke on the first day that you’ve got to teach them what not to do, so I might show them the video the first day just to tell them, ‘Don’t do this,’ ” he said, laughing.

But he’s more interested in putting the mistake behind him, and will move to Manhattan on Jan. 3 to look for a second chance.

“It’s something I had to get over,” he said. “Now, I’m moving forward.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Ryan Johnson at (701) 241-5587